By Clay Schuldt
The Houston County Board received a letter from contractor JB Holland regarding its decision to deny a Conditional Use Permit on the Dennis Kinstler property near Money Creek Township for road material.
In the letter the company said the board ignored its own standards and chose to apply different standards to formulate their decision. The contractor said the board showed preference over which Houston County residents would prosper from the sale of fill material. A relative of Money Creek Township Chairman Dale Omodt owns the land where the township wants the contractor to extract fill.
JB Holland will not take any further action on the matter but requested the board work with them rather than against them in the future.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski took issue with the accusation, which implies the board is trying to manipulate the selling of borrowed material. “You’ve got genuine concerns from a township, of which I take heart with, and those are the concerns being approached. I do really take offense that they are implying there is some kind of coupe going on here.”
“We were approached by three members of the town board with a letter, and we need to support them,” added Commissioner Teresa Walter.
Commissioner Jack Miller agreed saying, “We didn’t do anything under the carpet or behind the screen. We made a decision and we explained why we made the decision.”
Human service budget
Due to shrinking county funds, all departments have been asked to cut as much as possible; however, this causes many issues in the human services department. Human Services Director Linda Bahr said, “Everything we do is mandated.”
Bahr explained that a few years back her department cut almost all non-mandated expenses. Bahr said that as the state continues to cut funding to programing due to the economy, the number of citizens depending on human services has increased.
Miller asked the department to go through the budget again to find any additional cost savings.
Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger introduced Dr. Ross Reichard of Mayo Medical Clinic to the board. Houston County recently entered into a year contract with Mayo for medical examiner services.
Reichard began by saying, “I think we have some unique opportunities to work on collaboration. I think there are some things that we offer at the Mayo Clinic… that is a pretty good resource.”
The annual cost for autopsies is established based on a per capita basis. Reichard admitted the average cost of an autopsy is broad, depending on how much testing needs to be conducted. In addition, Houston County Sheriff Doug Ely pointed out that Mayo Medical professionals will testify in court in the event of a criminal trial.
Commissioner Jack Miller commented that the county should feel comfortable with Mayo Clinic handling medical investigations. Reichard responded by saying, “We feel that you see the Mayo Clinic Health system spread out through Southeast Minnesota – it seems like a natural connection… for us it makes sense to be involved in the community.”
Kruger requested to begin a search for a temporary, part-time worker for the highway department. The position would be seasonal work related to snow removal. County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski explained that on non-snow days the employee would be used for other seasonal work. From a budget standpoint, Pogodzinski believed hiring a part-time employee would be more cost effective than hiring two 67 day employees.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski asked that, in terms of priority, would the highway department take an employee over equipment. Pogodzinski admitted that some of the highway department’s equipment cannot be extended out too much farther, but with less maintenance employees it becomes difficult to schedule.
Kruger did stress that this request was not to approve a hire, but simply begin the search process to see if a pool of potential employees are available. The board agreed to initiate the search process.
Houston County Attorney Jamie Hammell updated the board on efforts to fund victim services. Early this year the state cut funding, and the county has since looked to local government units to help fund the program. La Crescent has already agreed to give $5,000, Spring Grove voted to give $1,500 and Caledonia $2,000.
In addition, it was announced that victim services will now receive 100 percent of fine money as opposed to sharing it with Bluff Country Family Resources.
Hammell admitted that the money received from fines was relatively small, but the county will now receive more than in past years.
Twenty-two acres of land previously set aside by the county for a new highway shop was put up for sale by decision of the board Oct. 23. Since then, the county has discovered that statute requires the county take bid proposals for the land and would need to re-advertise the sale.
Commissioner Steve Schuldt said he felt reluctant to sell the property as it was an ideal location for the highway department.
Zmyewski said that while the county needs a new highway building, it would not be cost effective to construct a new building on this site. The infrastructure would need to be put in place before the building could even go up. The county can use the $300,000 from the land sale to build a new shop on the existing site with the proper infrastructure already in place.
The board voted to advertise for proposals with the minimum bid not to be lower than the original cost of the land. County Auditor Char Meiners informed the board that since the original advertisement of the land at least one party has expressed interest.
• Economic Development Director Jordan Wilms came to the board requesting a new laptop computer to the tune of $1,220. Wilms said funding is available through the Emergency Management Grant. The previous laptop broke down and the grant will only be available until March. The board approved the request.
• The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees approved an agreement brought to the last board meeting. “I think the negotiations, though lengthy, were amicable,” Miller said.
The contract terms are retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012, and extend through Dec. 31, 2014.